Some locally owned grocery stores are disappearing in parts of PA

LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. -- It's Tuesday afternoon at John Herr's Village Market in Millersville where the owners have a special motto.

"Be friendly. Your customers are everything, and try to do the best thing you can do for them as far as prices and products," said Keith Eshleman, the vice president.

Employees still bag groceries for customers and help them to their cars.

The business started in a corner living room and expanded over time; this year marks 100 years of business.

"We get approached probably once or twice a month by brokers interested in the property or building or even the business," added Eshleman.

Eshleman tells each and every one the same thing.

"Not today, have a nice day!" exclaimed Eshleman.

Over the past few years, several family owned markets in Lancaster County have gone off the map, including Darrenkamps, Rhubarb's Market, and Ferguson and Hassler.

"The grocery industry is changing rapidly. Probably more rapidly in the past ten years than the past thirty years," explained Eshleman.

You can now buy food almost anywhere, and consumer habits are changing.

It's also more expensive to own a grocery store.

"Younger people are not shopping the way people my age shopped," explained Jim Kidwell, the director of marketing for Family Owned Markets.

Right now, Family Owned Markets supports 7 different grocery stores owned by 5 companies, including John Herr's.

Those stores combine their marketing dollars and buy food together which cuts costs.

"They all decided it was more important to band together against the larger big box stores and keep the independents together and be stronger," added Kidwell.

For years, that included Musser's Markets, a 94-year-old chain, but its remaining stores are being sold to Giant later this month.

"I get sad when any brick and mortar stores sell because the community loses a piece of its history, and a lot of times it never gets back," said Eshleman. "It's heartbreaking."

Eshleman says he is here for the long haul; he is putting stock in what his employees do best.

"Good old-fashioned customer service, the same old customer service that happened over a 100 years ago in that corner living room," said Eshleman.

"For us to maintain this, we got to get back to our roots, stick together as independent retailers, and focus on what we do well," said Kidwell.

"Brick and mortar stores are important to the community. Once you start losing that, you lose the community," added Eshleman.

There is good news.

Saubel's Markets in York County and Crops Fresh Marketplace will be joining Family Owned Markets in the near future.

Kidwell says there are a few other locally owned shops interested as well.

He says all of the remaining Family Owned Markets have succession plans in place.

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